New Yorker Magazine history online for subscribers

I recently wrote about the type of content that will drive readers to subscribe to publications, whether the information is consumed through print or online. Well written, edited and hard to access literary and social commentary, it seems, will always be in demand by a percentage of the market. In Australia, The Monthly is a stand-out publication. In the USA, The New Yorker has been grabbing people’s attention since February 21, 1925.

I have written about digital editions of magazines before, by this I mean publications that appear online as page-turning replicas of their print editions. This format has its place and purpose in an increasingly diverse market. The New Yorker, while having a comprehensive website, has recently had every weekly edition of the magazine digitised since February 21, 1925, and is releasing each future issue in this digital format, as well as continuing to publish sample content on their website.

Subscribers to The New Yorker can now access a digital edition of every issue ever published. This is not only a powerful internal tool but a massive driver for subscriptions, from what I have heard. Yes, we all know using historical content is a valuable way to monetise and drive subscriptions, but the structure of that content is what makes it useful.

The New Yorker, October 26, 1929

The New Yorker, October 26, 1929

What made looking at each issue of The New Yorker magazine valuable for me was context. I could look at the entire magazine, cover-to-cover, and see what was happening in New York in, say, October 1929. Including what advertisements were running at the time.

I remember as a child, newspapers used to reprint products such as The War Papers, the papers that came out during The Second World War, for people to collect. It is this contextual formatting that may still interest people, which can now be achieved, easily and cheaply, though online digitisation using companies such as Realview Technologies, the company that worked with The New Yorker.

Certainly, historical content is something that can be offered to subscribers as an exclusive benefit.

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How will the future of publishing look?

I was thinking more about the future of monetising media content, both through current online products and soon-to-be mobile devices. There’s been a lot of talk in the publishing industry recently about specialist and niche titles being forced to look for subscription revenue as they are finding it harder to compete in the retail market with larger consumer magazine titles.

These specialist magazines are forced off the newsstands by agents modeling themselves after FMCG retailers  that maximise return per square metre and charge for prime retail positions. Chasing subscriptions and subscription revenue seems the obvious route to take.

But consumers are chasing content from many sources, increasingly it is free, backed by advertising. They are developing deep and sophisticated relationships with digital devices that deliver information to their fingertips whenever they want it, B2B and consumer – mobile charges will be the major barrier to consumption. What benefit are consumers gaining from magazines, nowadays? This is the question magazine publishers should ask themselves. Portability? Quality of reading format? The nostalgic feel of paper?

I don’t believe it will be long before electronic paper – truly flexible, full colour, electronic paper as being  trialled by Fujitsu and Philips – deployed in a next-generation Kindle-type device, will turn the business models of the publishing market upside down. A flexible, large-format, mobile device that is web-connected, drives down the value of subscriptions as access to quality content moves towards Free.

If the only reason you are gaining revenue from subscriptions is because of the magazine format, then the lifespan of this revenue source is coming to an end. Charging for high-end, quality content is already being challenged: Business Spectator (free) vs Financial Review (subscription).

What content would I pay for? Important timely business information that I don’t want influenced in any way by advertising. And these types of subscription businesses are continuing to perform strongly in the face of free online information. Some examples are legal, accounting, some financial information.

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Australia Post invests in more subscriptions

I attended a breakfast this morning hosted by Australia Post. They have brought out Alan Weaver from the United Kingdom to talk to magazine publishers about selling more subscriptions, more effectively and, of course, retaining current subscribers.

Australia Post also launched its new quarterly magazine, Subscribe, at the breakfast. Subscribe aims to help the publishing industry “understand the key factors in subscription profitability, including renewals, maximising subscriber value, and online subscription marketing. We will also take a look a close look at modelling and analytical techniques,” says editor Gary M Lane in his Welcome Letter in the first issue. At the breakfast, Weaver presented on subscription excellence to a packed house of magazine subscriptions specialists at Jones Bay Wharf. He then sat on a panel with Alan Sarkissian, executive director, Publishers Australia; Bruna Rodwell, subscriptions consultant and Gary M Lane, editor, Subscribe magazine.

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AFR obfuscation strategy

In my post Why the subscription model is hard to lose, I wrote about media companies often having two different brands – one subscription-driven and one advertising-driven – riding off the same content in order to maximise overall revenue without cannibalising existing income streams. In this post I want to look at the specific example of the Australian Financial Review and their cunning obfuscation strategy!

In my post I suggested that the AFR‘s advertising-driven / free brands were the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. This, from a corporate perspective, is true, however, from the brand level, the AFR also pumps content through to other AFR brands such as technology magazine, MIS. This content is somewhat protected through an “obfuscation” technology that makes it unreadable if it is selected to copy. Part of a hard-core copyright protection strategy to bring maximum traffic to the site for viewing content and advertising, perhaps?

Obfuscation!

Obfuscation!

Sarah Stokley from LifeHacker had this to say:

This is bizarre – often people like to cut and paste to read later, or to email to a friend to tell them about the article, or to quote in their blog. Enter the Deobfusticator – a website created by Lindsay Evans which lets you enter an AFR URL and get a page of readable text in return. Thanks for helping us keep the Fin somewhat user friendly, Lindsay. :)

However, when I checked the comments on Sarah’s post, I noticed that Sean Carmody found the Deobfusticator no longer functioning. I checked, and also found it on the blink. Is the Deobfusticator broken or is Fairfax onto it and changing code.

Is the AFR trialling a free advertising-driven model with the technologists who read MIS? When will the next deobfuscator arise? Is obfuscation necessary?

Why the subscription model is hard to lose

This post was inspired by Sean Carmody’s comment on my last post about subscription versus advertising business models on the web.

His observations initiated an important discussion about businesses in decline and those in their ascendancy. For businesses that are receiving significant cash flow from a declining/stagnant brand, it is difficult to forgo this income to gamble on a completely new approach to revenue. It seems that in the online publishing world the declining model is that of subscription and the model in the ascendancy is that driven by advertising, precisely because of the nature of the net and its multitudes – and the huge forecasts in online advertising growth in coming years. VC companies have had an affair with free content / advertising-driven models for some time now, much to the chagrin of those entrepreneurs with different ideas.

Web 2.0 is largely funded by advertising. Advertising is an AUDIENCE business. So, when Paul Graham is telling his companies to worry about building audience first, that’s actually a good point of view to take. It’s like building a magazine. If you don’t have any readers you won’t get any advertisers.

Robert Scoble – Scobleizer

However, subscription sites will continue into the future. An online media business with a significant subscription base would be loath to write off the resulting revenue to bank on it being replaced by advertising – even if that subscription business is markedly in decline.

The strategic end of those subscription-based media businesses caught in this quandary, such as the Australian Financial Review (under threat from Murdoch’s Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal purchase) and other major B2B organisations I have dealt with, either have related advertising-only businesses (such as the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age) or are investing in free, advertising-only models that service the same market under different brands, to hedge themselves.

As content creators and publishers determine who is best placed to do what over the coming years, we will see businesses managing the subscription and advertising models to maximise revenue from their assets.

Monetising future content

I was at the Future of Media Summit 08 on Tuesday and one of the discussion groups I attended focused on business models going forward as media organisations attempted to rationalise the continued breakdown of their traditional content models.

The move away from subscription-based and ‘pay for content’ systems was questioned as potentially due to a weakness in current technology, rather than an intrinsic and systemic change in the media environment and consumer needs.

Dr Stephen Hollings, CEO of News Digital Careers, asked whether the internet simply had not delivered the right form of micro-payment system that provided the required flexibility to all parties.

This is an important question. In a modern environment of information overload, will participants (and by this I mean those who read, interact and give feedback to media and content providers through comments, uploads and other connections – as outlined by Chris Saad in his presentation at the Summit) ever pay for anything again? Commentators cast the digital generations as having shorter attention spans, wanting greater diversity of views and perspectives, shorter pithier articles, videos and audio pieces. In short, they want to consume smaller things more ravenously – and be acknowledged for their contribution to the cycle of creation. This new media momentum is not stopping.

If this is true, complete subscriptions to publications of which few articles are read will be a hard-sell to participants who surf the web or, rather, take feeds from multitudinous sources to aggregators like Google Reader.

In the absence of an adequate micro-payments system, is advertising the only real source of revenue for online content creators? And if so, how do we organise ourselves into powerful engaging entities that will deliver relevant, salient information to transient participants and what will be the acceptable formats for advertisers?

(Update: Ross Dawson, who organised the comprehensive trans-Pacific Future of Media Summit, has just posted a list of 16 blogs covering the event.)